Prapanca stay away from me

Today was my first day off the bike in a week. My legs were really tired yesterday. Oddly, after about 15 miles they seemed to come to life. I found myself cruising along at 18 miles per hour. This is the sort of thing happens on long bike tours. (It’s a good thing because, otherwise, you’d never get where you’re going.) If this crisis hadn’t come along, I’d be ready to tour in a couple of weeks.

I learned today that two people have tested positive in the building where I worked for 25 years in DC. I don’t know them but I still know quite a lot of people who work there. A description from one of the victims who is currently in the hospital in Maryland describes truly awful illness and extensive lung damage. That’s what worries me most; my lungs are already damaged from illnesses in 2016 and 2018.

Generally speaking, descriptions of the disease vary wildly. Some people get no symptoms at all, others get what feels like a bad cold, still others, like the victim above, have high fevers, coughs, and escalating pulmonary distress. The randomness of all this is enough to drive you insane. And, since it takes days for the symptoms to arise you or just about anyone you interact with could be infected and not even know it. One truly odd thing about the disease is that all the physical distress is caused by your body’s defense mechanisms going haywire as they fight off the invading pathogen.

I have a strong fear of suffocating. When I was a kid, I hated it when other kids held my head underwater. When I was in the hospital with a collapsed lung in 2018, I rolled over onto my good lung. It compressed my good lung and left me without the ability to draw a breath. Climbing my first big climb in Colorado last summer, I found myself leaning across the top tube of my bike on the side of the road in the Rockies unable to catch my breath.

Stress is sometimes useful. When it’s under control, stress can help you concentrate on an exam or get your adrenaline going for a burst of effort. It’s not useful when it just wears you down mentally and emotionally. What we all especially need to avoid is that runaway narrative in our heads that builds bad scenarios on top of each other. It doesn’t matter what your personal situation is; your brain can hijack your stress defenses and carry you away to a place of despair. Buddhists call this prapanca. Prapanca stay the fuck away from me.

Today did have a few de-stressing moments. Instead of riding, I mowed the lawn. Fresh air. Mindless. Repetitive. Not a bad combination. And no interaction with potentially infected, two-legged disease vectors.

Late in the day my wife did a yoga class online. Just as it was about to start a woman came to our door. It was one of her yoga class friends, a psychiatrist, bearing a gift in a black bag. It turned out to be a bottle of gin and and one of tonic.

Gin and tonic, the doctor recommended cure for prapanca.

Rolling Therapy for Prapanca

I slept terribly last night. I was all stressed out about the missing document I need for my citizenship application. My mind just ran riot thinking about the missing document. All night long. Pure prapanca. 


Somehow through this tornado of thought and self-induced stress, I managed two two-hour spurts of fitful sleep. Needless to say, I was a wreck all morning. I conducted another search for the document. No luck.

Just reading the morning paper and trying to do the puzzles was exhausting. Coffee didn’t help either. It just made me more anxious. I tried meditating but all it did was cause my mind to go back into its spin cycle.

Around 2 p.m., I decided to do an easy bike ride on The Mule. Maybe 20 miles. After 1 mile I felt better. Two miles, even more so. By ten miles I was a happy camper. I went out of my way to ride up some hills. No problem. Let’s ride over there and back over there and isn’t it a lovely day and I love riding in shorts and a t-shirt and what the heck was I so stressed about anyway?

My body was happy. My mind was calm. Life is good.

Tomorrow I’ll look for the document again. Maybe I just misfiled it.



Solitude and Prapanca

It was a cold and blustery day. I could have gone for a ride outside but Big Nellie was all alone in the basement. So I went downstairs with a magazine, a book, and two water bottles are started spinning.

An article in Adventure Cyclist magazine about Joe Cruz (great name), an accomplished cycle tourist, had a paragraph that really resonated with me. Every time I do a solo tour people ask me if I get bored or afraid. Solo touring has made me appreciate the difference between loneliness and solitude. And as Cruz says:

Being by yourself makes a tremendous difference in how open you are and how you put yourself into the cultural context of the place your visiting. …[W}hen I am solo, I am getting a great big hug from the place, surrounded by mountains or terrain that grabs me and holds me and over hours lets me disappear, and the chatter in my head goes away and the place I am visiting becomes part of me.

I am infinitely more loquacious when I am on a solo bike tour. I talk to everybody I meet. Considering how introverted I am, this is quite a feat.

There is something to be said for touring with others as I did in 2016. And I find I much prefer doing event rides with a group of friends. Solo touring is a whole different ballgame.

Of course, solo touring can be a drag if you let it. More specifically, if you are prone to letting worries run away with your mind, you are in for a very miserable time. I was on my way to Indiana along the C&O Canal towpath in 2005. I was about 40 miles into the day bumping along on Big Nellie when I found my mind hijacked.

“This is so bumpy. All the weight is over the rear wheel. What if my rear tire blows out? What a spoke breaks? What if it starts to rain? This is going to suck.”

Over and over again. For hours.

After finishing the magazine I started reading the new book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics when I learned that this kind of escalating worry binge has a name. Buddhists (in the ancient language Pali) call it prapanca.

I was crushing prapanca all the way to Brunswick, Maryland when I stopped my bike and literally gave myself a good talking to. Out loud. (The other trail users gave me a few hairy eyeballs.) I resolved to forget about all the catastrophes that might come and enjoy the fact that it was a perfect summer day and I was on vacation doing what I love to do.

And off I went with a smile on my face.

A few days later, I noticed that my rear rim was cracking. I stopped at a convenience store. The clerk told me about a nearby bike shop. The bike shop dudes told me that they’d replace the rim and pointed me to a Mexican restaurant and a motel. The next day I was back on the road with a full tummy, a good night’s sleep, and a new rear wheel.

Take that prapanca.